I promise I'm not on a 'married couples in the woods' kick, though after my last pick of The One I Love, you'd be forgiven for thinking so. I didn't even think about The One I Love when I was deciding on Honeymoon, but they share a lot of similarities. Reassessing who it exactly is you've chosen to spend your life with is there. Trying and failing to have an idealized experience, check. When Bea mentioned the ducks, and how the wooden ones were just trying to blend in, I was concerned we were going to have to talk about doppelgangers again. Thankfully, Honeymoon distances itself from The One I Love, unless there was a deleted scene in the latter where Elisabeth Moss pulls a tentacle out of herself.
I have been giving horror a second chance, but very much on my terms. I still think torture porn is about the most despicable thing out there, and home invasion films are also off the table. This seemed indie enough to not indulge in the worst aspects of the genre. To my pleasant surprise, there's plenty of body horror. I do like those kind of films, where characters bodies turn against them and the director revels in squishes and weird anatomy. See The Fly for my favorite example, or almost anything David Cronenberg's ever done. Also The Thing, and Black Swan. To paraphrase Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle, the rotten-ness of that kind of grotesquery has a little bit of allure to it, where you know you should look away but you also want to take in every grisly detail. Honeymoon logs a great body horror scene, capped off with the little antenna flick at the end that I thought was just perfect. I shouted a little bit at that moment, which I think is why people watch horror movies in the first place.
I'm really focusing on the end, but I thought about 80% of Honeymoon was very well made. The surroundings are shot beautifully, with careful attention paid to make them appear as isolated as possible. The space of the cabin is well-established early on with a tracking shot, such that I knew where every room was in relation to each other. The light and the disconcerting noise that accompanies it sets the stage, and the meeting with Bea's old friend at Restaurant (Their specialty is food) spins off the multiple versions of this movie that could've existed, particularly some kind of Straw Dogs imitation. I feel like the exact right amount of time is spent before the sleepwalking and the film starts in earnest. Once that begins, the two leads amp up their performances to what I felt was a very naturalistic place, especially Harry Treadaway's Paul. His reaction once he gets Bea back inside felt novel for a movie like this, such that he isn't yelling at her to tell him what happened and artificially creating tension, but instead pacing and wide-eyed and confused/relieved. The electronic, atonal score is also very well used with its rises and falls. It's all fine-tuned to create dread and intrigue, something I think first-time director Leigh Janiak very much succeeded at.
The 20% of the film that I was less keen on was the first fifth. That quintile should be used to establish stakes, which is the survival of their relationship after the movie. I might be alone in this, but I don't think Treadaway's and Rose Leslie's chemistry was all there in those first scenes, and it was a bit of a lost opportunity. Compared to everyone's favorite movie, Frances Ha, Honeymoon didn't match the level of investment I had in the central relationship, though they both used their first 10 or 15 minutes establishing, or attempting to establish how well this pair of people are in synch. This isn't fully formed, but I thought the dialogue was too cutesy and the delivery was a little stilted. Interested to know what the rest of you thought.
Leslie really puts herself through the wringer for this, and I think it pays off very well. With Game of Thrones actors, I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of them are only good at this one thing. While I anxiously await being proven wrong by Emilia Clarke or Maisie Williams, I can confidently strike Rose Leslie off that list. Having to essentially play two characters, I think she nails the subtle differences between pre- and post-sleepwalking Bea. The pre- version is more natural and sweet, while the post-version is slightly nervous and trying too hard. The big climax is not just a horror victim montage of screaming and panic. Some of that's there but much less than a worse movie would've asked of her. The calm on her face when she's tied to the bed is unsettling, and anything could've happened in that moment. Maybe she speaks in a strange voice, maybe things start coming out of her mouth to attack Paul, maybe the bed levitates, or maybe all of the above. That calm comes back when she's putting Paul in the water, and I appreciated the way Janiak withholds a view of her decaying face until the last possible moment in the boat. It's a strong performance that doesn't get worn out by Janiak just leaving the camera on her while she repeatedly screams, like other horror movies might.
There's several thematic threads, but the one I most grabbed onto is disappointment. As Bea says when Paul has no interest in pretending everything's fine, "You're ruining this." When you've put a bunch of planning and anticipation into some event and it's not going like you thought it would, or an alien has inseminated you with sentient tentacles, that attempt to will yourself into having a good time is something I can relate to. I'm sure we've all had some experience where the picture in your head did not come close to real life, or you're trying to recreate some previous, spontaneous good time and it's just not working. That kind of disappointment can really sting, and aliens or not, there's a version of Honeymoon that's exactly that. The curdling of expectations into small-m mediocrity is my takeaway here.
Though it gets off to a wobbly start, Honeymoon is well-structured, well-acted, and effective at drawing out the reactions it wants from its audience. I do wish the two leads had better chemistry in the good times, but it doesn't break the movie. The ending also engages in a little too much yelling and hysteria, but maybe that's a natural reaction to the kind of impromptu abortion we witness on screen. There's a line between can't-look-away and unpleasant, and while I think Honeymoon approaches it, it doesn't cross it. Because it doesn't indulge in my least-favorite aspects of the genre (jump scares, exploitation) and thoroughly draws me in, Honeymoon gets a B.